Smash

In Grade 9, I went on a class trip to a camp located near Thunder Bay, Ont. I have many vivid memories from this adventure, such as canoeing across a lake to see a beautiful waterfall, going on my first solo trail run in the woods, and attending a scary séance led by a strange girl who had recently transferred to our school.

On the final night of our stay, we were treated to a raging bonfire that was surrounded by a circle of old cars and trucks. I’m not sure if we were given permission to do this, but at some point in the evening many of us started jumping up and down on the cars and trucks and smashing in the windows and metal frames with large tree branches that been cut down for the fire. This night remains the wildest and most reckless experience of my life.

Now that I’m old and boring, I spend my days focused on protecting and repairing my employer’s brand and reputation. Sometimes I wish I could regain the freedom to simply smash and destroy something large and breakable with complete abandon. Perhaps I should consider changing my hobby from running to home renovation.

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The Sculpture

I’ve never been good at drawing, painting or sculpting. My art class in Grade 8 was particularly stressful for me, as we needed to carve human faces onto the angled corners of a rectangle-shaped piece of clay. One of my classmates helped me create two intricate faces for my project, which included a detailed moustache. By helped, what I mean is that when he finished carving the faces for me, I took the sculpting knife and etched my name onto the bottom of the sculpture.

Later that school year, my parents brought the sculpture home from the school after a parent-teacher interview night. My mom loved this piece of art and displayed it proudly in our home. Every time I looked at it I would cringe and feel like a fraud. Despite telling my mom that someone else did the work, the sculpture remained, even 30 years later when my parents retired and moved into a smaller home.

Last year while visiting them, I helped the sculpture disappear. By helped, what I mean is that I threw it away in the garbage.

I should discard more things in my life that make me feel like a fraud as this was a liberating experience.

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Yesterday Passed

“Today is today and yesterday passed, this is certain.

Today is also tomorrow, and I left
with some cold year that passed,
that year left with me and took me with it.”—Pablo Neruda

Like many nine-year-olds, my son, K, enjoys creating things with LEGO. What makes him different, however, is his obsession with the instruction books. Although he enjoys reading the book 365 Things To Do With LEGO Bricks, he much prefers reviewing the basic instructions for LEGO sets he’s already built. He carefully reviews the steps outlined on each page before turning to the next one. If we allowed him, he would spend hours flipping through his collection of instruction books, over and over, and do this day after day. He doesn’t want to rebuild the LEGO sets, but he finds comfort in repeatedly reviewing the steps he’s already followed.

As I watched K pore over the LEGO books this evening, I thought about how I can obsess about situations and events from my past. I’m not able to go back in time and reassemble what happened, so I’m not sure what I hope to accomplish by repeatedly imagining how I could have spoken or acted differently. While some introspection is healthy (and also necessary for personal survival and growth), there comes a point in which further reflection on past experiences is no longer helpful or healthy.

I need to recognize when today is also tomorrow, so that I can embrace the freedom to create something new.

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Deliverance and Riches

“Run and run towards deliverance
And find and gather everything
Deliverance and riches
Run so quickly the thread breaks
With the sound a great bird makes
A flag always soared beyond”—Paul Éluard

I’m in Boston now for the marathon weekend. Everywhere I go I see runners milling about. Some look excited, others look anxious, but we’ve all come for the same event.

On Monday, we’ll cover the same 26.2-mile route from Hopkinton to Boston, but we’ll all be in our own race. Some of us are running towards something, while others are running away. May we run quickly enough to find and gather our deliverance and riches.

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Whips

When I was an undergraduate student, I spent a few years studying Classical Greek and Latin. It’s amazing how practical these courses have turned out to be in my professional life. It honestly boggles my mind that people waste their time and money on post-secondary studies such as engineering, IT and medicine, or on learning languages that are still spoken today such as French, Spanish and Mandarin. If asked to offer one piece of advice to prospective university students, I would say this: Studying dead languages is the way to go, closely followed by poetry and creative writing. You can’t go wrong with pursuing any of these academic disciplines; unless, of course, you want to have a nice place to live and adequate food to eat. Did you know that the word sarcasm comes from the Greek sarkasmós, which means to bite the flesh from one’s bones?

It’s been 20 years since I immersed myself in the worlds of Greece and Rome, but I often think of the stories I read/translated by the ancient poets and philosophers. One of these stories comes to mind often, as it provides a gentle but profound reminder to embrace freedom in my life.

I believe the story below was originally told by Herodotus, who is known both as the Father of History and the Father of Lies. I’m relying on my memory here, so let’s just say it was written by Herodotus, and not completely made up by me, and then I’ll either be a disciple of history or a disciple of lies, depending on how familiar you are with ancient Greek texts.

As Greek men were wont to do—or at least in the stories of antiquity—one day all of the landowners from a small city left their farms, livelihoods and families to travel by sea to fight with their countrymen against the enemy Persians. Gone for 10 long years, the Greek men returned home only to discover that their slaves had taken their place as the new masters of the city, having even married their wives.

Filled with rage at this discovery, the Greek men put on their armour, picked up their shields, swords and spears, and marched toward the city to reclaim their homes. When the former slaves saw the Greeks approaching, they quickly armed themselves in defence. A battle raged, but the Greek men, tired and hungry, were pushed back beyond the city gates.

Twice more the Greek men marched against the city, but each time they failed to defeat their former slaves. As they prepared to give up their fight, one among the Greeks spoke up. “Why are we fighting our former slaves man to man? When we do this, we show them that they are equals, and we will continue to struggle to overpower them. We must remind them who holds the power.”

With these words, the Greeks threw down their swords and spears and picked up their whips. Then they walked proudly toward the city.

When the former slaves saw the men approach and heard the crack of their whips, they were reminded of their past, lost their confidence and surrendered their freedom. The Greeks reclaimed their mastery over the slaves and took back ownership of the city.

I write this now as a free man, but at times I question whether I have the intelligence, social skills and motivation necessary to excel in my professional life. I also worry too much about what others think of me and whether I receive enough recognition for what I do. And sometimes I speak sarcastically and critically of others. These are all things that enslave me and interfere with a healthy and vibrant life.

However, when I focus on being true to myself, showing kindness and patience to others, and listening to close friends and family members who know me best and care for me, I am able to experience a life of freedom.

The key is to recognize the whips which continually call me back to a life of slavery.

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